01 July 2021 432 Views

#TBT: TERMINATOR, PRINCE OF THIEVES. How Two Movies reinvented the blockbuster, forever!

by James Murphy

ROBIN HOOD / T2:  1991. What’s the connection? The legacy?

It is all too easy to throw out these ‘thirty years of’ such and such a film every five minutes. Trick is to somehow find a thread. For want of better term, was there some ‘viral’ quality at work? I’d like to define the brand identities from the film(s) in question and thereby explain why their anniversaries remain noteworthy. 

Good news: ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY both have ‘it’. That magic dust that runs and runs into endless nostalgia. They were both of AND beyond their time. Dress rehearsals for our current movie climate.

 

Robin’s adventures are set in ENGLAND. That is ENGLAND, ENGLAND. As in the land of HISTORY. N shit. Nowadays, one cannot really imagine a blockbuster film not incorporating a contrived montage of London landscapes. Instant jet setting class and intrigue etc.

Despite the period setting, I would argue Prince of Thieves started that trend. Rather than populate the whole Merry Men team with Americans (though yes, a few sneak in): we go full on Briddddish.

This is a potted intro to how people think English communities speak. ‘BOLLOCKS’ is among the first words uttered by Little John here. It’s the first indication that these writers did their research, big time, before the days of Wikipedia, right? Um. Maybe. Sure!

Because ALL Brits go around swearing and shouting. If they are the good guys, of course. Amidst montages with a VERY CONFUSED SENSE of England’s geography.

The legacy continues. Just watch any HARRY POTTER, JAMES BOND, MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE and FAST/FURIOUS movie that goes to actual LONDON, ENGLAND. The precedent was set by Robin Hood, in 1991.

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (T2) is not set in London and is no period piece (though that would make a great film). But it reinvented technology on film. It is that simple.

T2 opened the door for JURASSIC PARKs 1,2,3.., STAR WARS (prequels) and the rest. Finally there was a way to bring the most fantastical imagery to life. Those liquid metal effects were ground-breaking back then and remain impressive, today.

Both Robin and the Terminator take an interesting approach to the goodies vs baddies. Revolutionary then. Relevant, still!

Kevin Costner IS a competent Robin Hood. I don’t care what you say. Sure, Michael Praed / Richard Todd and Errol Flynn set the template. 

I met Mr Praed once at a Theatre in Surrey, same summer the Robin Hood film in question was released. He had not seen this Costner version but looked forward to it. Lovely, diplomatic man and let me watch rehearsals for his play. I digress.

Back to Costner: he is adept with bow and arrow, especially the bit where it is on fire. And one buys into his earnest quest and leadership skills which are an essential part of the character. Robin Hood, (much like King Arthur) is not meant to be a big and showy hero. Thankless heroism and ideology define him. He’s sweet. I like him. Sweet. And Kevin did want to master the English accent; they just did not let him! 😉

Hence, Robin’s aborted Briddish voice becomes American for most of the movie. This is still Kev at his most bankable best, sandwiched between Dances with Wolves and JFK /Bodyguard.

So why is he so neglected when people talk about this film? Because everyone is so busy gushing about Rickman’s Sheriff baddie. Yawn.

I never ‘got’ that, to be honest. Hamming up with unfettered improv is not skilled acting or particularly clever. It’s what some viewers think to be impressive: ‘he stole the show’. No he didn’t. Alan would never do that (a nice, decent, honourable sort; much missed today).

This scene chewing villainy was handed to Rickman by the director /producers. They even let him use his own script editor (Ruby Wax: a writer whose appeal still puzzles me but each to their own I guess?).

I loathe the Rickman Sheriff turn. It’s sixth form skit level stuff. FAR better work from the man in: DIE HARD, MICHAEL COLLINS, BOB ROBERTS, CLOSE MY EYES, AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE and many more.

At the same time though, everyone else loved Rickman in Prince of Thieves. I get it! Ok. So cue an entire subgenre that now exists of English villainy, onscreen. There is a perception of class and craft and menace by virtue of accent.

And we all love a good bad guy or a bad guy gone good. Which is why they took  Arnold’s antagonist from the first TERMINATOR and made him the goodie in part 2.

Genius! And it applies, again, today. If your villain suddenly wins fan girl love online? Then you just reinvent /retcon them as a misunderstood protagonist in their own spin off.

Regardless of who steals whose show? These movies are ensembles. Morgan Freeman became a blockbuster franchise talisman of success via Robin Hood. Dark Knight, Olympus has Fallen and so many more now rely on his wise, sage, calming yet steely presence to lend gravitas. 

T2 also manages to make Arnold Schwarzenegger the USP and still give substantial roles to every supporting player, notably Linda Hamilton. Now THAT is how you portray a ‘strong woman’.

 

These films are self contained summer ’91 gems. And yet? Both have legacy in culture and each set a template for things to come.

Are they ‘great’? No. Sorry. Prince of Thieves is a substandard Indiana Jones wannabe. Note the way they say ‘Marion’; there is an attempt at supernatural subtext; limbs are cut off and rats run around ; Sean Connery and Pat Roach both cameo. Indiana Hood?

TERMINATOR 2 has stunning effects innovations and genuinely provocative moral motifs but its pace lags and it’s basically a softening of what was a simple slasher horror sci fi blend in part 1.

But these are entertaining, slick, engaging, charming, innovative and accomplished pieces of film. They reflect their zeitgeist whilst reinventing things sufficiently to show the way to successors right ’til the present day. 

1991 was a cultural curiosity. Agassi! Irn-Bru! I’m Too Sexy! My trip to Malta (saw the Blue lagoon; volunteered, gallantly, to help apply suntan lotion to a lovely 20someting, panama hat / shade sporting girl on a boat; I was 11 but hey..precocious confidence is cool, right?). I digress.

Fact is? Robin Hood and Terminator owned 1991. No subsequent iteration of their imagery or mythology has enjoyed quite the same cinematic or cultural success.

NOTTINGHAM was mooted as a new take on the Hood mythology but that promising script became ROBIN HOOD, in 2010 (GLADIATOR 2 in all but name: fine, even great, but it’s not a beloved take on the myth).

TERMINATOR is headed for anime /Netflix and a return to the simplicity of its horror origins. But even that may be doomed, I fear, having been preceded by a string of failed reboots and sequels. It all ended on a high with T2. Unless you do TERMINATOR V ROBOCOP and /or have a take with an older Arnold as a scientist who starts a war with machines by accident and has to stay alive to save the day one last time? Etc.

Fact is: you cannot repeat 1991, for anyone. You can simply highlight the legacy ingredients.

Perhaps it’s just timing and luck? Maybe one can attribute much to the two movie stars?

Kev and Arnie are at absolute peak popularity and presence.

A lot of girls (and guys, yes: #pride etc) thought Robin and Terminator had ‘very nice bums’. That is why so many viewers perhaps parked their own bottoms, on cinema seats, in 1991? Maybe. They liked Mel Gibson back then, too: he did not fall ‘behind’ in the arse contest. And his BRAVEHEART in 1995, for all its poetic beauty, feels like a more erudite Robin Hood film, in places. 

Whatever the reason behind the magic? The Prince of Thieves / T2 method still permeates commercial cinema, today.

And who can forget THAT song? Sing along now.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the Glen‘.

No! Not THAT one.

THIS ONE!..

Yes that IS Pierce Brosnan presenting the documentary about Robin Hood. 

Now I have finished what I STARRRRTED. HASTA LA VISTA, BABIES!

 

 

 



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